Things that happen on the west side of town don’t always get the attention and acclaim that projects in other parts of the city do.
That’s about to change, and with it the lives of hundreds of residents in the Eugene Field neighborhood east of Southwest Boulevard and south of the Arkansas River.
As part of phase one of the federal Choice Neighborhoods program, 77 families have been relocated from their homes in the Riverview Park apartments, 2212 S. Jackson Ave., to better accommodations.
Over the next three years, the number of family relocations will climb to approximately 340, including the remainder of those living in Riverview Park, and the residents of the nearby Brightwater Apartments, 2202 S. Phoenix Ave.
That’s 390 apartments — 200 at Brightwater and 190 at Riverview — that are coming down. Over the next five years, they will be replaced with a mix of 460 affordable housing and market-rate units.
The new apartments will cost $184 million. Add in a new neighborhood grocery store and a new park, and the investment in the neighborhood will exceed $200 million.
The neighborhood revitalization, once completed, will be called River West.
“I don’t think you will find probably in the history of the state that level of investment for affordable housing in one project,” said Aaron Darden, president and CEO of Tulsa Housing Authority.
Darden would be the first to note that the Eugene Field Choice Neighborhoods project is not about building another affordable housing project: It’s about building a place where anyone would want to live.
“So having the opportunity to come in with that type of investment to completely redevelop and create this brand-new mixed-income, mixed-use community was just too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Darden said.
As the 17 vacated Riverview Park apartment buildings — about half the complex — come down in November, work will begin on extending four dead-end streets in the neighborhood.
The idea, said Jeff Hall, THA’s vice president of strategic planning, is to create a more walkable, connected street grid.
“A big component of the overall project is how you create more of a neighborhood feel and less of these large super blocks,” Hall said.
Tulsa Housing Authority has worked closely with affected residents to ensure that their moves go smoothly. Dedicated relocation coordinators and case managers were made available to all residents, and THA provided funding for moving fees, security deposits, utility relocations, and other associated costs.
“All of our relocation coordinators were tasked with finding communities that were a step up, had better schools, just really considered to be areas of more opportunity,” Darden said. “The whole goal was to hopefully improve their situation because of the relocation until the new community was ready for them to come back to.”
Residents relocated because of the project will have the first right to live in the new apartments when they are completed, and THA officials say interest in coming back to the neighborhood has been strong.
What they return to will include a 5-acre park and a 17,000-square-foot, full-service grocery store. The park will be constructed on land that today is best known as the parking lot for Oktoberfest, across the street from River West Festival Park. The grocery store will be inside an existing building just east of Eugene Field Elementary School.
“Neither will be necessarily opened up or be available in 2019,” Hall said. “But we do anticipate both to be underway in 2020, so those are coming.”
The city of Tulsa and THA were awarded a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods program grant last year through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation provided a $12 million grant for the project.
Other sources of funding for the project include a mortgage, low-income housing tax credit equity, private equity and debt financing.
There are many pieces to the project, and many partners. But Darden says he could not be happier with how it is evolving.
His hope, from day one with THA, has been to find ways to deconcentrate poverty in the city. He can’t think of a better way than the Choice Neighborhoods project.
“Which forces you to not only look at housing ... but the neighborhood, and just the overall people aspect of the community,” he said.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.